Almaz Beyene – a Widow Practicing CA.

Raising and feeding a family in Ethiopia is hard enough when both parents work at it, but Almaz Beyene a widow with 7 children has been raising them on her own! Before her husband died they had 2 girls and 5 boys, of whom the oldest has left home, leaving 6 kids to feed.

With funds from World Relief Canada, TDA is training over 8,000 farmers like Almaz to learn a more sustainable and productive farming technology called Conservation Agriculture, or ‘CA’.

The Conservation Agriculture project is over 5-year project that will spread knowledge about CA in Wolaita Zone where it is desperately needed due to erratic rains, infertile soils, and small land-holdings.

We recently visited Almaz to see the impact of CA on her farm and her family.

Almaz learned about CA in October 2015. The basic 3 principles involve

  1. minimal soil disturbance or no tilling
  2. mulching the soil and using leguminous companion crops as a living mulch to improve the soil and shade it from the hot, drying sun
  3. finally doing beneficial crop rotations or associations

In the dry lowlands of Damot Woydie District where many soils are lacking in nutrients and the rains are erratic, TDA taught that CA is well suited, so she applied it in 2016.

The motivation is high as Almaz realized she needs to be productive on her small farm, and minimize risk. Almaz realized that mulching fields with organic matter gives a number of benefits like conserving moisture, preventing soil erosion, suppressing weeds, keeping the soil cool so good organisms like worms can live near the surface, and building up organic matter in the soil when it decomposes.

Almaz tells us some of her story; “I have a small farm and grow several crops on it. Last year- a bad drought year in southern Ethiopia- TDA took us on an exposure tour to the neighboring district where they have been doing CA with farmers for a few years. It stood out like night and day, most of the conventional farming had minimal production due to the severe drought, but the CA farmers had good crops. They were growing maize with a leguminous cover crop intercropped. That visit was convincing!

 I plant on my CA plot mainly maize, taro and pumpkin. I mulch heavily as TDA told me so I conserve the moisture and suppress the weeds and it works….look at these 2 soils (see left where she shows a dry dusty handful from the conventional farming field, and a nice moist lump of organic soil from the CA plot). My conventional maize crop is embarrassingly thin, but my CA crops has done really well., Even though people think my pumpkin is the ‘companion crop’ I will actually make more money from selling them than from the maize. We can eat it or sell pumpkins right through till next March as I have this field fenced and keep livestock out.”

It is easy for all to see this woman has learned the technique well. We were pleased when she showed an award the local government has given here for innovative farming, and happy to see the smile of hope on her children’s and her face.